XO Begins Battling Telecom Elite

“They can’t. We do”is the mantra driving McKinney &Silver’s rebranding effort forbroadband telecommunications provider XO.

Formerly Next-link Communications, which merged with Concentric Network, XO has assembled a fiber optic and wireless broadband network in nearly 50 U.S. cities.

The Raleigh, N.C.-based shop’s advertising campaign, which includes broadcast, print and direct mail components, is expected to run through the fourth quarter.

Four irony-filled, 30-second spots are airing on CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, ESPN and The Weather Channel, plus NBC’s Today Show and ABC’s Good Morning America.

Print efforts are scheduled to appear in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and other major dailies in Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami and Washington, D.C.

Shot in Vancouver and Toronto, Canada, the television spots revolve around the fictitious “Charles Gaines,” chief executive officer of a competing telecom company determined to outdo XO in performance, availability and customer service.

“Gaines is the stereotypical executive out of touch with the real workings of his company,” said McKinney copywriter John Guynn. “He’s trying to make it good, but it can’t work.”

In “Phone Center,” we see Gaines’ 24/7 help desk manned by the Goth-like “Balkazar,” who is painting his fingernails black while customers ring for service. His mates hang from the ceiling like bats on Halloween.

The less outrageous but more complex “Tommy” depicts Gaines recalling a former hard-charging, can-do thinker who might have saved his company—if he wasn’t given the heave-ho.

” ‘Tommy’ is about packaging products into bundles: voice, Internet access and Web sites,” said Guynn. ” ‘Tommy’ [has] a subtext too—’We’re not the kind of company that kicks out good ideas.’ “

Founded in 1994 and headed by former MCI president Dan Ackerson, McLean, Va.-based XO is gearing up for an assault on telecom industry leaders like AT&T and MCI Worldcom.

A $2.4 billion merger withConcentric Network last summer added Web-hosting and Internet-driven capabilities to XO’s mix of business-to-business services.